Kimber seemed to realize now that the noises disturbing her didn’t come from a radio after all. She raised her head and squinted at Keane. Her hair was a frizzy, tangled mess, and there were pillow lines on her face, but I saw Keane’s eyes stray to her and widen. Even with bedhead, she was disgustingly gorgeous, especially in the royal blue silk nightgown she was wearing. Me, I’d gone with a ratty T-shirt and flannel boxer shorts, and I suspected I looked about as appetizing as roadkill.
I reminded myself that Keane was an annoying jerk who woke me up at an ungodly hour because he wanted to spar after one of the longest days of my entire life. I didn’t care if he thought I’d give Medusa a run for her money in the Ugly Olympics.
“Sorry to wake you,” Keane said to Kimber. “Just give your bedmate a nice kick in the ass to get her moving and we’ll let you get back to sleep.”
Kimber pushed her hair back from her face. “Thirty minutes, in front of the stable, is that what you said?”
“I’ll get her there.”
“Traitor,” I grumbled, belatedly remembering that Kimber was much more of a morning person than me. She was already starting to look almost perky, while I was still wishing for toothpicks to hold my eyes open.
“I hate you,” I told Keane, inspiring a self-satisfied grin.
“Not as much as you will in thirty minutes if you’re not down by the stables like I told you.”
I gave his shoulder a shove. I knew he’d have no compunction about throwing me over his shoulder and carrying me down if I didn’t show up. “Get out of here so I can get dressed. I am going to be so motivated you’re going to wish you let me sleep in.”
It was an empty threat, of course. I was sure that as usual, I’d have trouble landing a single blow unless he let me. But it sure wasn’t going to stop me from trying.
* * *
The last thing I wanted was an audience for my sparring session with Keane. I was self-conscious about my lack of skill, and I was pretty sure some of the positions we ended up in were … less than dignified. But once Kimber got the idea in her head of seeing Keane in action, there was no stopping her from tagging along. There was a definite sparkle in her eyes and a spring in her step as we both hurried to get dressed and get to the stables.
“It’s really not going to be that interesting,” I told her, hoping I was just imagining the hint of desperation in my voice. Kimber was always so graceful and elegant, and I was anything but. I suspected I’d be even more of a klutz today, considering how stiff and sore every muscle below my waist felt. I was not looking forward to another day on horseback.
Kimber gave a huff of exasperation. “I’m not going to be watching you, dummy.” She grinned at me and waggled her brows. “Do you think you can get him sweaty enough to take off his shirt?”
I rolled my eyes. “I’ll be lucky if he works hard enough for a hair on his head to move. Like I said, not that entertaining.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” she replied as she led the way out of our room.
As reluctant as I was to have Kimber watch me make a fool of myself, it was probably a good thing she came along, or I’d have made at least three wrong turns before I found my way out of the massive house. My sense of direction sucks, and I’d been so tired the night before I’d barely paid attention to where I was going.
It seemed the people of this house were not exactly early risers. The halls were deserted and silent as Kimber and I made our way toward the front door. Which made it even more shocking when we turned one corner and came upon a brown-skinned creature about three feet in height. Its back was to us, but when I made a little squeak of surprise, it whirled around, displaying a mouth full of teeth that would have looked at home in a shark.
The creature was naked except for a loin cloth, its skin a wrinkled, leathery brown like it had spent a lifetime baking in the sun. Saggy boobs that hung to its waist like partially deflated balloons declared the creature was female.
Sure it was going to pounce on me and sink those wicked-sharp teeth into my throat, I let out a choked cry of alarm and leapt backward, practically knocking Kimber down. The creature made a very similar sound, leapt backward … and disappeared.
Hyperventilating, I grabbed hold of Kimber’s arm as I looked wildly around.
“Where is it? Where’d it go?” I was still waiting for the attack, adrenaline pumping through my system. In fact, I was so primed for attack that it took me a moment to realize Kimber was laughing. Laughing so hard tears were leaking out of the corners of her eyes.
Her laughter calmed my panic, and I let go of her arm. The heat in my cheeks told me I was blushing, though I wasn’t yet sure exactly what I was supposed to be embarrassed about. I was sure she’d enlighten me as soon as she stopped laughing uncontrollably.
I glared at Kimber. “What the hell was that? And where did it go?”
Kimber cleared her throat, and I could see she was still struggling against laughter. “That was a Brownie. I’m sure there are at least a dozen of them on staff here, but they don’t like to be seen.”
If the one I’d just laid eyes on was typical, I could see why. “That’s a Brownie? As in the helpful little fairies who clean house and cook?” I’d never put much thought into what a Brownie might look like, but it sure as hell wasn’t like that. I was going to have freaking nightmares.
“Brownies as in the lowest ranking of all the sentient Seelie Fae, who are employed for menial labor by the Sidhe. Not only do they not like to be seen, but the Sidhe don’t like to see them. Don’t tell anyone you caught sight of one, or they might track her down and dismiss her.”